It’s hard to deny the impact and popularity of a buddy war movie, especially after the unstoppable success that Top Gun: Maverick saw. Devotion, directed by JD Dillard, is coming in at a tricky time though. Although audiences may be seeking out similar films such as Joseph Kosinski’s latest, it’s tough to follow up a predecessor quite like that one. Devotion should generally be a crowd pleaser with its gripping action, charming performances and a compelling true story that’s quite moving.
Devotion is set during the Korean War and centers around two very real men, one of them being the US Navy’s very first Black aviator, Jesse Brown as well as his wingman and devoted friend, Tom Hudner. The two pilots are originally apprehensive about each other but quickly form a tight knit bond and friendship during their service together. They serve side by side, bump shoulders with Elizabeth Taylor in Cannes and are each other’s confidant. They both face the hardships of leaving family, dangerous missions and tough conditions, but Jesse Brown (Loki’s Jonathan Majors) deals with his own set of trials unique to himself.
Brown finds himself juggling the tasks of being a successful pilot, a good husband and father on top of flying under the radar in his field in an attempt to be held to the same regard as his fellow white aviators. Being that Brown is a Black aviator in the early 1950s, throughout his upbringing and career he found himself facing an onslaught of racist remarks, mistreatment and abuse from those around him. In a few very intense scenes we see Brown’s pain as he drops his guard and processes the hurt he has experienced, only for him to once more collect himself and move on, appearing to outsiders as unscathed as he continues his job. In recognizing the hostility and discrimination he faces every day, Tom Hudner (portrayed by Glen Powell, who incidentally, co-stars in Top Gun: Maverick) slowly earns his trust and becomes a fierce supporter and protector of Brown.
Things come to a head when the men are deployed to the border of North Korea, assigned to fly in, destroy some bridges and return back to base. We see Brown and Hudner caught in the midst of The Battle of Chosin Reservoir – a titular event in the Korean War and ultimately what made the two a permanent spot in the history books.
This connection the two pilots share is the most successful element of the film which is elevated whenever the two are together, playing off one another on screen. Majors and Powell have a believable connection that becomes all the more impactful when reminded that the story is based on two real men that went to the ends of the earth for one another.
The film is well shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt (Mank) with exciting in-air action sequences and equally riveting sound design. The script comes off as slightly thin and appears underdeveloped at times with some generic dialogue and predictable plot points but is ultimately saved by the dedicated performances throughout, especially by Jonathan Majors who absolutely disappears into his role as the intensely determined Brown. The rest of the supporting cast deserve praise as well from Christina Jackson’s warm and deeply emotional portrayal of Daisy Brown to the likes of Joe Jonas and his comedic relief throughout the film as fellow pilot Marty Goode.
Devotion isn’t the next Top Gun installment, but it doesn’t have to be. All the pieces are there to make it an individual success on its own, and it is sure to be a popular and likable watch amongst audiences. There’s grit, passion, heartbreak, humor and love sprinkled throughout — a plethora of elements amounting to its probable success with its spectators. Devotion‘s end credits highlight and show the real life heroes of this true story, reminding us that this isn’t just a Hollywood story, rather an inspiring telling of two men with an unshakable bond that together made history.
This review is from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Sony Pictures will release Devotion only in theaters on November 23.